Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday sentenced nine separatist leaders from Catalonia to terms ranging from nine and 13 years each in prison for sedition over their role in a failed bid for independence in October 2017.

The three other defendants in the landmark ruling, which stemmed from the holding of a referendum that had been banned and a short-lived independence declaration, were found guilty only of disobedience and not sentenced to prison.

What happened on Oct. 1, 2017, was “not just a demonstration or a massive act of citizen protest,” the Madrid court said in a ruling delivered in writing rather than in an open session.

“If that had been the case, there would have been no criminal sentencing. It was a tumultuous uprising encouraged by the accused, among many others,” the court said Monday. 

All defendants were acquitted of the gravest charge, rebellion, but other leading separatists were quick to call the ruling an “attack on democracy.”

The former head of Catalonia’s regional government, Carles Puigdemont, said the prison sentences for the separatist leaders were an “atrocity.”

“Today we are all condemned. This sentence is an attack on democracy and the rights of all citizens,” said the current head of Catalonia’s regional parliament, Roger Torrent.

The longest prison term, 13 years, went to the former deputy leader of the Catalan regional government, Oriol Junqueras.

The court convicted Junqueras and eight other leaders on charges of sedition and four of them of misuse of public funds, the court ruling showed.

Protesters take to the streets

On Monday, protesters blocked five regional roads across across the semi-autonomous region, officials at the Catalan road traffic agency said as people opposing the sentencing took to the streets.

Several streets in Barcelona were blocked by demonstrations, including parts of Diagonal avenue, which crosses the city, local police said. There were also protests in big Catalan municipalities including Girona and Lleida.

Protesters hold a Catalan pro-independence Estelada flag in Barcelona on Monday. (Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)

Train tracks were briefly blocked outside Girona, a separatist stronghold about 100 kilometres northeast of Barcelona, rail operator Rodalies said on Twitter.

A Catalan police spokesperson said no major incidents had been reported, but declined to give more details. Separatist protests have historically been peaceful but police sources have said authorities are prepared for any violence.

After the ruling was published, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), a pro-independence grassroots movement, tweeted “it’s time to rise up against the authoritarian fascism of the Spanish state and its accomplices. It is time for the #RevoltaPopular (popular revolt).”

The government has said it is ready to take direct control of Catalonia, as it did in 2017, if secessionist leaders break the law.

The ruling is likely to colour a national election on Nov. 10, Spain’s fourth in four years, and influence the direction taken by the separatist movement.

An opinion poll in July showed 48.3 per cent of Catalans against secession and 44 per cent in favour.